Originally created 03/12/98

Ex-Highway Patrol commander denies impropriety



COLUMBIA -- Public Safety Department director nominee James Caulder on Wednesday denied an anonymous accuser's allegation that he took improper trips at the state Troopers Association's expense while Highway Patrol commander.

"I abided by the letter of the law," Mr. Caulder said.

A Senate screening panel received an anonymous letter suggesting Mr. Caulder improperly attended National Troopers Association meetings with state association money. Now the 1,200-member state organization has discovered that some financial records have disappeared.

The subcommittee asked state President Rob Woods for documentation on money the group spent on travel, meals, lodging and entertainment for Mr. Caulder and his family during the years Mr. Caulder ran the Highway Patrol, a Columbia newspaper reported Wednesday.

Mr. Woods learned that there are no backup computer files. The association is trying to reconstruct files from bank records, travel agency documents and other means, he said.

Mr. Woods also said he initiated an internal audit about two weeks ago. "If you had those type of allegations, you'd be remiss in not investigating them," he said.

The Troopers Association is not a state agency and has no direct connection with the Public Safety Department. However, the Highway Patrol, which Mr. Caulder commanded for four years, is the largest division.

The subcommittee chairman downplayed the development, saying Tuesday's confirmation hearing was postponed because of scheduling conflicts. Sen. Jim Bryan, D-Laurens, would not discuss the missing records and told the six-member panel not to discuss the issue publicly.

"It could be unfair to Mr. Caulder," he said. "I don't want anybody to think there's something wrong with his confirmation."

Mr. Bryan said he would not launch an investigation based on anonymous information, but decided it wise to review the financial records.

Mr. Caulder said he saw nothing wrong in attending the National Troopers Association meetings after being invited by the local group. Some of the trips were cleared by the State Ethics Commission, he said.

"My position is I belong to the Troopers Association. I'm a trooper. I have been for 32 years," Mr. Caulder said, noting that other troopers went on trips as well. "If I did anything wrong by taking that trip, then everybody that went on the trip was wrong."

Mr. Woods said the anonymous letter-writer has no credibility. "There's no indication there is or has ever been any impropriety," he said.

The state Troopers Association is a nonprofit, professional organization whose membership includes current and retired troopers, spouses and civilian employees of the Highway Patrol. One of the group's missions is to lobby the Legislature on trooper-related issues.

Mr. Caulder said he made enemies while patrol commander and suspects he knows who wrote the letter, though he would not say who.

"A lot of times, everybody doesn't agree with the way you run an agency and would rather see a change," he said.